Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Barley is a good buy

lambs and goats eating a whole barley-based dietAt the elevator where I store my grain, I took notice of the posted prices for grain. Corn was $4.20 per bushel and barley was $2.20 per bushel. The escalating demand for ethanol is pushing corn prices higher. It's been a while since corn prices have been over $4 per bushel.

High corn prices are increasing the cost of feeding livestock and forcing many livestock producers to consider alternative feeds. Barley is the third largest feed grain crop produced in the United States, after corn and sorghum (milo). Between 1984 and 2004, the average monthly price of barley in the United States was 86 percent of the monthly corn price. At my local elevator, the posted price of barley is 52 percent of the price of corn.

After I do my calculations for differences in weight (56 lbs/bu for corn and 48 lbs/bu for barley) and energy content (88% TDN for corn and 84% TDN for barley), I determine that corn costs 8.52 cents per pound of TDN (energy), whereas barley only costs 5.46 cents per pound of TDN, a savings of 36 percent. Plus, barley is 3 percentage points higher in protein (12 vs. 9), reducing the amount of protein supplement that needs to be fed.

Barely is a good buy right now, if you can get it. It can (and should) be fed whole to sheep and goats (except for baby lambs and kids). You can form a complete ration by adding a balancer pellet or by adding soybean meal (or whole beans) and minerals. Like other grains, barley is a poor source of calcium and contains more phosphorus than calcium.

Feeding barley to sheep